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February 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Beazley Finds Real Passion

February 5, 2006

by Glenn Milne - Sunday Telegraph

When Federal Parliament resumes tomorrow, John Howard will find himself facing a re-energised, harder and more focused Kim Beazley than the man he's already beaten at two elections.

I spoke at length with Beazley last week and discovered a Labor leader who had toughened himself over the Christmas break both physically and mentally.

It's not just that Beazley is swimming 60 short-course laps a day in the pool. Or that he's lost 8 kilos and intends losing more. More importantly he appears fired by a new found sense of self-belief.

His weight loss means his energy levels are noticeably up. But intellectually and politically he seems more assured of his purpose and the necessity of bringing John Howard down not for the sake of it, but for the sake of the country.

Beazley has always been a passionate nationalist. But in the past his problem has often appeared to be that he hasn't matched that with a passionate belief in himself, a belief necessary to shape the character of anyone who wants to be Prime Minister.

The public can sniff lack of confidence.

The last leader it afflicted was Andrew Peacock. Voters sensed Peacock was only going through the motions of wanting to be prime minister because that's what had always been expected of him.

During his first two incarnations as Labor leader, Beazley appeared beset by the same problem. Born into a Labor family (his father was education minister in the Whitlam Government) he was elected to parliament at the age of 32.

Three years later he was a minister.

In Cabinet for most of his career, Bob Hawke treated Beazley like a surrogate son and he rose to become deputy leader under Paul Keating.

Somehow it was just accepted that one day Kim would be Labor leader because he came from and was a member of the party's aristocracy.

But that's not enough to propel you into the prime ministership. Just look at John Howard: every fibre of his body is attuned to beating his opponents and staying in office. And voters know it, and respect him for it.

Take one example in Howard's case: he rises early and by the time he hits the pavement for his morning power walk he's across most of what's in the media.

While he walks he's plugged into the morning radio programs. By 8.30 when he gets to the office, he's better briefed than most of his staff.

Beazley, by comparison in his first two stints as leader, didn't bother himself with the media, relying on his staff to keep him informed.

That's now changed. Beazley has decided he must engage himself fully with the media agenda. That in turn has seen him become much disciplined in his use of language.

Gone is the old "prolix" Kim. His one-liner about the AWB scandal at the National Press Club last week was a corker; "wheat for weapons".

Gone too is the "small target" strategy of previous elections.

A month into the New Year Beazley has already produced a number of key policy "blueprints" and there'll be more to follow.

The Opposition Leader has also taken an apartment in Sydney. That's allowed him to immerse himself in East Coast politics and media; something he couldn't do when he was living in Perth, three hours behind the engine room of the country.

Rather than having to fit his appearances in with his visits from Perth, Beazley can now seize media opportunities when it suits him.

Psychologically, he no longer feels like an outsider from the West. His networking in Sydney and Melbourne is paying dividends.

But most importantly it's the intersection of national political events that's fired Beazley up.

According to staff his twin obsessions in politics have been national security and a fair industrial relations system. Howard he genuinely believes is now making a mess of both and, in doing so, is jeopardising the economic and defence future of the country.

It's these twin concerns that have finally convinced Beazley he has to beat Howard at the next election. That's one motivation. The other is that if he doesn't he'll go down as a three-time political loser.

That should be motivation enough. Let the contest for 2006 begin.


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